I love local multiplayer games. Where online play is a disconnecting experience, characterised by tinny headset-mic sound, server lag and assholes, local multiplayer is one of gaming's great joys. There’s nothing quite like nestling into a cosy rat-king of network cables, monitors and game boxes, laughing with and high-fiving your friends because you’re in the same room and can do that. Recently there’s been a resurgence in true local multiplayer, hooking up multiple controllers to a single machine and playing on one TV. Such games have undergone a slow, depressing extermination with the advent of paid subscription multiplayer services - why enable split-screen multiplayer when you can make people pay to play online? - but like polio, local multiplayer refuses to be stamped out entirely. That is one of the very few attributes that local multiplayer shares with polio.
The indie gaming industry has spearheaded this noble push towards bringing your opponents within punching distance. Some of my fondest Fantastic Arcade memories from last year involve cackling like a maniac over titanic matches of Starwhal: Just The Tip, Samurai Gunn and No Brakes Valet. You haven’t experienced the full majesty of Spelunky until you’ve played and died repeatedly with a group of friends laughing at your misfortune and stealing your treasure.
But now, like some horrifying Brian Yuzna nightmare filtered through the kind of heartwarming, bizarro cartoons made for really little kids, Push Me Pull You joins the fray. One of the strangest and most instantly brilliant concepts I’ve seen in gaming for a while, it’s a two-on-two ball game with each pair controlling opposite ends of a naked, bi-torsoed sports sausage. Each end of the adjustably-long flesh tube has its own arms and cartoony head with what appear to be customisable hairstyles, but these creatures cannot move under the command of a mere single player. No, you and a friend must work together by crawling about and hooking the ball into your side of the court.
Like all the best games, the simple concept belies great potential for depth - the sports-worms can get tangled in one another; different-length bodies net greater or lesser driving force; it's entirely possible to get overwhelmed with just how ridiculous it all is. But then, ridiculous sports are the best sports anyway. Just ask any follower of Inuit Mouth Pulling.
There’s something undeniably intimate and only barely deniably sexual about Push Me Pull You’s nude mixture of sumo wrestling and football. Despite the lack of any visible genitalia, the game is entirely about pressing flesh on flesh, of getting entangled in the limbs and snaking, prehensile shared torso of your opponents. Tiny crinkled-skin details in the animation remind you that these are organic beings curling around each other in pursuit of the ball. It makes me feel uncomfortable in ways entirely new to me - I can't decide whether these two-headed, four-armed stretchy tubes are repulsive, adorable or hot. If they're hot, it's a Cronenbergian hot. The kind of hot that kept Long Jeanne Silver in business back in the day. There's some crazy-ass fan fiction begging to be written about these snakey benders.
But Push Me Pull You is an entirely innocent game. It seems likely to bring people together, whether due to the teamwork inherent in the gameplay or just through sharing the same strange body. In a sense, the shared body can be seen as cooperative multiplayer rendered into flesh. The fact that the game's Melbourne-based development team House House consists of four people either provides a devastating insight into their collective psychosexuality or a charming look at the closeness of their friendship.
Push Me Pull You will be available for your personal computing devices later this year. In the meantime, you can simulate play in your living room with three of your friends and two sleeping bags with the ends unzipped. You might even become better friends than you bargained for.